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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Asymmetrical Villainy

By the pool of the John's Island Club, the subject was politics, or near-politics. (Somewhat like talking about American televangelists is near-religion... not the real deal but they mill around in the same ball park.)

The subject went to Edward Snowden, and the person who raised the topic said,
"Edward Snowden, hero or villain?"
and we went around the table.

I was first. I hesitated about one second, letting a flurry of thoughts rise like startled sea gulls from the beachscape of my mind.
"Hero," I said.
Three of us said hero, and we said it definitely. We did not cavil with some nonsense like
"I think... hero.... yes. Hero."
Just the one word "hero".

The person who raised the question said

just as definitely.

Maybe more definitely. She had a list of reasons ready, and they were not the solid block of monolithic emotional reasons I would have given at first; they were the product of rational analysis and thought. At this time I was interested suddenly in how "analog" the emotional mind is and how "digital" and discrete is reason. (Emotion is like a an entire ivory tusk, while reason is more like Mah-Jong tiles .)
These came down to a basic proposition that Mr. Snowden's dumped vast amounts of data to the media, and this data had the potential to hurt people.

Some people would have argued this point, but we did not, for the proof would be in the future pudding.

However, I was struck by the new concept of "villain". I am sure that Mr. Snowden agonized over his decision, being aware that he could very well become a man without a country.
If he were not being paid for his information, he would lose his country, home, and way of life in pursuit of some idealized notion of human rights and human privacy and who knows what other moral goods.

So if he did not sell his data, it seemed as if he was either (1) a hero, or (2) a villain who perpetrated his dastardly deeds for all the same reasons and sufferings which befall heroic figures in Western myths and stories.

And that is why the world is so often mysterious, for all is not Professor Xavier and Magneto of the old comic books; rather it is Professor Xavier and Magneto of the modern films, where the good remains nebulous (and only the shadowy government agencies are truly "evil").  And it is "nebulous" in the sense that the good is hard to see and find, not that it is hazy by its very nature. In no way does "nebulous" imply something like the popular philosophy notion of "relative".

All mankind of goodwill will find out in the final winnowing who was a hero and who the villain... maybe.

Maybe we shall all be heroes and heroines.

Or not.



Ruth Mowry said...

Yes, maybe.

I wonder if you've heard about the new project Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill have started? Investigative journalism, the real kind.

And First Look is the new media group housing the mag, and others to come. Could this be a new day for media truth telling?

Montag said...

I hope so.
I doubt it, though.

In the face of money, we not only discard morality, we chuck away science and health - such as the continued use of asbestos and lead over generations, even though it was strongly indicated that they were very harmful.

Truth has no advantage in free markets.

It has to have a decent return or no one will invest.